S.O.S. – Sports Officials Shortages

Imagine you’re doing your job with hundreds of people watching, the lights beaming down. Do you want to know the best part? The only recognition you get is being booed and yelled at just for doing your job. To make things worse, you are only being paid minimum wage. Well, that’s the job of a high school sports official. No wonder there’s a shortage of them right now.

What’s Going On?

To really understand the significance of the ref shortage, let’s look at the numbers. For a high school varsity football game, there are supposed to be six officials. This year, however, most games in SMAC have only had three referees. That’s 50% of the normal number of refs gone. Now imagine what it would be like for junior varsity sports. When discussing this issue with Athletic Director VaShawne Gross, he reflected on last spring when JV baseball games were occurring with only one official. Gross also mentioned that the organization that supplies refs for high school soccer games lost over twenty officials. As the number of officials continues to dwindle, the impact of this shortage becomes greater and greater. It affects everyone from players and coaches to the spectators and the schools themselves.

What’s the Big Deal?

Think about what a ref shortage does to the quality of the game. With fewer refs, more calls will be missed and thus, more upset players, coaches, and fans. As a player, myself, I have noticed more obvious calls being missed and other officiating miscues that seem as though they are a direct result of the referee shortage. Another issue that has come up is game scheduling. Obviously, schools want to showcase quality sporting events. So, when there aren’t enough referees, games are postponed or cancelled. Mr. Gross explained how his job and the jobs of athletic directors across the county have been challenged, “Some teams are moving games to Saturdays. Some teams are moving games to Thursday, just so they can have enough officials…it’s tough, and what’s (going to) happen is we are (going to) start seeing this trickle down.” As Mr. Gross talks about moving games, think about how that might affect the whole atmosphere of games. When you think high school football, you think Friday Night Lights. Well, that could be changing, all due to a shortage of sports officials. Now, to fix a problem, the cause of the problem needs to be addressed.

Why is This Happening?

In the case of the shortage of sports officials, the main cause has been interactions between officials and players, coaches, and spectators. When asked about why referee numbers are down, Mr. Gross painted this picture, “…why do I want to take a job when I’m always the one getting yelled at and screamed at, then you come to the games where you got student sections and everybody that doesn’t know the rule(s) and then they (are) booing…” I don’t think anyone would want to do a job where they get yelled at and screamed at the whole time.

Our Fans (John Allen)

This pattern of behavior towards sports officials has spread all through the state of Maryland and has garnered the attention of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA). In a statement by the MPSSAA, they acknowledged that the primary cause for the sports official’s shortage is the “emotional, personal, and in some cases physical outbursts towards officials.” Since we know what’s causing the lack of sports officials, we must find solutions to this problem or there could come a time when high school sports as we know them could vanish. As the MPSSAA put it, “the longevity of these programs is feared to be in severe jeopardy.”

What’s the Solution?

So, what can we do? First, as Mr. Gross pointed out that if you are in the stands, “be a spectator.” Just let everyone do their job. Players are there to play, coaches are there to coach, and officials are there to officiate. As the MPSSAA stated, “Human error will exist…”, so there isn’t a need for all the animosity towards players, coaches, and especially referees. Remember, officials are people, too.